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October 21, 2022

Sisters and Brothers,

It was about a year ago when the conversation about my coming to St. Bart’s commenced in earnest. So, I want to share what brought us to that point.

 I had a crazy idea around the first of the year of 2018. I was serving a small church just outside of Alexandria. It was lovely little church that had been demoralized by some conflict-driven attrition. One of the ways that the parish supported itself was to rent space to another Episcopal congregation that had lost its lease. I had been in place a few months and decided to drive around our region (regions are sub-divisions of the diocese) and see all the churches. It dawned on me that two of them were very close by. I got home and did some of the nerdy research I do only to realize that each of these four parishes, on three properties within three miles of each other, was struggling and shrinking. Each was struggling and shrinking and serving the exact same set of neighborhoods. I thought to myself, “this is terrible stewardship of money, real estate, and people.” I started doing the math – combined these parishes were a little smaller than the largest parish I had ever served, and they had more than THREE TIMES as many people serving on Vestries than my previous congregation. Here’s the crazy idea – “What would be possible if we joined forces?” So, some gentle conversations started, some loose plans around shared outreach and fellowship were made, and then came Thursday, March 12, 2020.

 On Thursday, March 12, 2020, there was a webinar for the clergy of the diocese with Bishop Goff on this this platform called Zoom. We were told we couldn’t go back to our buildings until the pandemic had abated. While we were still on the call, I emailed my clergy colleagues saying, “I guess we are doing Morning Prayer on Zoom together this Sunday.” We, like everyone else, thought this would go on for a month or six weeks at the most. We, like everyone else, were wrong. First a collaboration was born, and then a community started form around daily Morning Prayer and Compline, around Racial Justice and other Outreach, and around Music Ministries. The idea that the whole was greater than the sum of its parts took hold and imaging a path toward joining together began. It was hard and scary and joyful and fun. While it was my idea, my crazy idea, I knew two things: 1) ultimately, I could not stay and be the Rector of this new thing, and 2) I wasn’t happy. It was time for Kate and I to start looking at the future.

 I should say that I wasn’t really UNhappy. I was just mired in PowerPoint slides and decisions being made by committees wringing their hands over budgets and demographics and assets. It wasn’t how I wanted to work. Kate and I had only lived together full-time during the first year of the pandemic, and we were tired of being apart and driving back and forth. My folks are aging and declining, and we wanted to be more available to them. So, there were several personal and vocational reasons for us to make the change.

 I started looking, and St. Bart’s kept popping up. I was cautious at first. I know only four other priests who returned either to the parish that sponsored them for ordination or the parish in which they grew up. Two served as Rectors, and two served as assisting clergy. Three of the four were happy, healthy calls, and I called all of them to learn what I could about their experience and to seek their advice. Each said some version of the same thing, “Michael, it’s been 22 years since you left. They are going to be different, and you are going to be different.” I talked to the Transition Ministry Officer, friends, and the two of our bishops. Folks were encouraging, “there’s no harm in reaching out. They’d be lucky to have you.” At every turn in our conversations and discernment with the Search Committee, Kate and I felt more empowered and hopeful. We remain hopeful and encouraged and grateful that our shared discernment with St. Bart’s has brought us here.

 We talk about “calls” in the church. We talk about “vocation” and “gifts.” But, I have to tell you that the world of clergy deployment/congregational search can be, and often is, more akin to the HR practices of corporate non-profits. There is networking and resume baselines and comparison and competition. That’s not to say that God isn’t at work in and through all of that very “human” ambitious wrangling. I am saying that it makes me a little cynical, unfairly I’m sure. I have to tell you that this was not my experience with y’all which makes Kate and I all the more grateful. And, if God has brought us together, calling my gifts and vocation to be married with yours, then there is a “What’s next?” to be discerned and joyfully and fearlessly lived into.

 What’s next?

Your brother,  Michael